Essential Facts About Jamestown

In 1607, Jamestown became the first settlement of the British empire in North America. Its location had been chosen due to it being easily defensible as it was surrounded on three sides by water, the water was deep enough for their ships, and the land was not inhabited by Native Americans. The pilgrims had a rocky beginning with their first winter. In fact, it took a number of years before the colony became profitable for England with the introduction of tobacco by John Rolfe. In 1624, Jamestown was made a royal colony. Learn about its fascinating history through these essential facts.

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Originally Founded for Monetary Reasons

Virginia, 1606, Jamestown Described By Captain John
Virginia, 1606, Jamestown as described by Captain John. Historic Map Works/Getty Images

In June, 1606, King James I of England granted the Virginia Company a charter allowing them to create a settlement in North America. The group of 105 settlers and 39 crew members set sail in December, 1606 and settled Jamestown on May 14, 1607. The main goals of the group were to settle Virginia, send gold back home to England, and try and find another route to Asia.

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The Susan Constant, the Discovery, and Godspeed

The three ships that the settlers took to Jamestown were the Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed. You can see replicas of these ships at Jamestown today. Many visitors are shocked at how small these ships actually were. The Susan Constant was the largest of the three ships, and its deck measured 82 feet. It carried 71 people aboard. It returned to England and became a merchant ship. The Godspeed was the second largest. Its deck measured 65 feet. It carried 52 people to Virginia. It also returned to England and made a number of round trip passages between England and the New World. The Discovery was the smallest of the three ships with its deck measuring 50 feet. There were 21 individuals aboard the ship during the voyage. It was left with the colonists and used to attempt to find the Northwest Passage. It was on this ship that Henry Hudson's crew mutinied, sent him off the ship on a small boat, and returned to England.

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Relations With the Natives: On Again, Off Again

The settlers in Jamestown were initially met with suspicion and fear from the Powhatan Confederacy led by Powhatan. Frequent skirmishes between the settlers and the Native Americans occurred. However, these same Indians would provide them with the aid they needed to get through the winter of 1607. Only 38 individuals survived that first year. In 1608, a fire destroyed their fort, storehouse, church, and some dwellings. Further, a drought destroyed the crops that year. In 1610, starvation again occurred when the settlers did not store enough food and only 60 settlers were left in June 1610 when Lieutenant Governor Thomas Gates arrived.

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Survival at Jamestown and the Arrival of John Rolfe

The survival of Jamestown remained in question for over ten years as the settlers were not willing to work together and plant crops. Every winter brought tough times, despite efforts of such organizers as Captain John Smith. In 1612, the Powhatan Indians and the English settlers were becoming more hostile with each other. Eight Englishmen had been captured. In retaliation, Captain Samuel Argall captured Pocahontas. It was during this time that Pocahontas met and married John Rolfe who is credited with planting and selling the first tobacco crop in America. It was from this point with the introduction of tobacco that life improved. In 1614, John Rolfe married Pocahontas who coincidentally had helped the colonists survive their first winter at Jamestown.

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Jamestown's House of Burgesses

Jamestown had a House of Burgesses established in 1619 that ruled the colony. This was the first legislative assembly in the American colonies. The Burgesses were elected by white men who held property in the colony. With the conversion to the royal colony in 1624, all laws passed by the House of Burgesses had to go through the king's agents.

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Jamestown's Charter Was Revoked

Jamestown had an extremely high mortality rate. This was due to disease, gross mismanagement, and later Native American raids. In fact, King James I revoked the London Company's charter for Jamestown in 1624 when only 1,200 settlers out of the total of 6,000 that had arrived from England since 1607 had survived. At that point, Virginia became a royal colony. The King attempted to dissolve the legislative House of Burgesses to no avail.